By Stan Welch
During their meeting Monday, Williamston Town Council held a public hearing on the 2017-18 budget to which no one spoke then tabled second reading on the new budget later in the meeting. Mayor Mack Durham said a budget work session will be held Wednesday, June 7 and a special called meeting scheduled for June 12 for additional discussion and a final vote.
During a work session held Thursday (June 1), the mayor and council met with various department heads who each presented their requests and made their individual cases for what were, in most cases, budget increases. The salient point about the budget, as proposed, is that it includes a one hundred thirty nine thousand dollar deficit. Mayor Durham argued that if the proposed increase in the sanitation fee is approved, approximately a hundred thousand dollars of that deficit would be erased. The mayor went on to defend the requested increases saying that there is no fluff included in the requests.
“The town has done an excellent job of being fiscally responsible in recent years, including this council. But we have reached a point where we need to make some adjustments for various and valid reasons. We are asking for things we need, not for fluff or things we just want,” said Durham.
Public works director David Rogers described the proposed seven per cent increase in water and sewer rates as “very conservative.” Durham described the town’s infrastructure as being in very bad shape, as a result of “kicking the can down the road for decades, not just years. We are under a DHEC consent order that really restricts this town. But we have been very proactive and aggressive in addressing our problems, and DHEC recognizes that. This budget would allow that to continue.”
The increases would help to pay for electronic exploration and inspection of old lines to determine the areas in need of repair, as well as pay for six hundred fifty thousand dollars worth of several smaller projects that council has already approved, pending approval of the budget. “These rates are designed to support both daily operations and maintenance as well as provide for capital improvement efforts. The idea is to build reasonable reserves and to operate responsibly. We don’t want to wake up twenty years from now and be back in the situation we were in just a few years ago.”
Police Chief Tony Taylor also presented his case for salary increases for virtually every one of his employees. He stressed that the increases would be tied to increased education and training. “For example, someone from the academy would have to obtain various certifications, such as radar operation, field testing for sobriety and other things before they could become a corporal. At that rank, their first raise would kick in. It’s not just a matter of time on the job. We are trying to build a tight, efficient department. But that requires us t be competitive in our pay structure.”
He pointed out that several city and county and even private law enforcement organizations in the area pay more than Williamston is able to do.” Pay isn’t the only deciding factor in where an officer chooses to go, but we have to at least be in the ballpark.” Adding to the financial restraints is the lower opportunity for promotion in a smaller department like Williamston. He added that many of the opportunities, such as side jobs or extra duty, that officers in other locales have for additional income are limited in Williamston.
The budget for the Envision Williamston program was also discussed. A key item is the salary of Executive Director Sonya Crandall. A proposed increase was challenged by Councilmen Rockey Burgess and Chris Alexander, based on what they see as a lack of increased visible economic development.